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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

New commercial transportation tax, less school construction money proposed in Alexandria

By Christy Goodman

Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann proposed a $553.4 million budget Tuesday night to the City Council that includes a transportation add-on tax for commercial properties but no new fees, taxes or service reductions for residents.

Property assessments grew by 2.5 percent, and the average homeowner will pay approximately $18 more than last year, said Bruce Johnson, the city's chief of finances. The average home is about $449,000 with a $4,395 tax bill, officials said.

"This is the first time since 2008 we are not dealing with a budget shortfall coming out of the box," said Hartmann, who said that while the city is in a good position, he is still using caution with his proposed budget.

A 12.5-cent transportation add-on tax that is estimated to bring in about $189 million over the next 10 years is proposed within the document. The tax would be added to a commercial property tax bill for new projects. Reductions in business taxes for some small and start-up businesses also were included to help offset the impact of the new tax.

"Transportation issues loom so large for us, we need to figure out how to provide adequate funding," Hartmann said in a briefing with reporters. "Not funding transportation will have a negative effect on this community."

He said he added the maximum add-on tax rate allowed by law to prompt the discussion amongst council members, several of whom requested the addition to this year's budget. Fairfax and Arlington counties have imposed the tax.

Hartmann's budget is a 3.2 percent increase -- or about $21.8 million -- compared with fiscal 2011's budget. It includes merit-based pay increases for city employees, additional funds for city planning, tourism and training for emergency dispatch personnel, among other items.

Alexandria City Schools will receive $174.8 million in fund transfers from the city. This is nearly $7 million more than last year, officials said.

The proposed 10-year, $957 million Capital Improvement Plan includes the new Potomac Yard Metro station and $158.1 million for the school system -- the same amount budgeted last year.

Morton Sherman, Alexandria schools superintendent, requested $372.6 million, enough for five new schools based on projected enrollment of some 3,000 more students in the next four years.

"Population growth in schools has grown," Johnson said, "but whether that trend will continue is something we have to think hard about before we build more schools."

The Alexandria City Council will conduct numerous work sessions before adopting a budget in May.

By Christy Goodman  | February 8, 2011; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Alexandria, Budget, Christy Goodman, Transportation  
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